The Columbus Blue Jackets extending their winning streak to 11 games with a 7-1 win over the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, are the buzz of the NHL and rightfully so.
In what was seen as a statement game to some, the Blue Jackets answered the bell with a thumping of the Penguins and this is no question a legit team in the east.
The Penguins saw first hand as the Blue Jackets come at you with four scoring lines, a quick mobile D and have a Vezina trophy winner in goal.
The Blue Jackets forward group lacks that No. 1 franchise center that you need to win in the post-season but this is a group of forwards that likely has the best combination of skill/speed/toughness in the East and built in a way like the Boston Bruins of the past that gave skilled Penguin team problems. The Blue Jackets forwards also defend in their own zone better zone better than almost any group in the East. It’s the ideal type of personnel for a John Tortorella type coached team who has done a phenomenal job in transforming the Blue Jackets this season.
The blueline has a ton of skill and upside with youngsters Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, and the emergence of the Werenski-Jones pairing has the Jackets able to deploy their top defensive pairing of Jack Johnson – David Savard properly this season. Savard is a +22 on the season, Johnson +19.
The NHL’s toughest division has another thorn in the side to deal with in the Blue Jackets who are unlikely to go away.
The Blue Jackets are now a combined 6-0 vs Blackhawks, Canadiens, Rangers, Penguins and Capitals this season, with a +21 goal differential in those games.
What Went Wrong for the Penguins?
The Penguins did not play a terrible hockey game. The floor just dropped quickly.
When Columbus took over the game in the second period, they just came at the Penguins in waves and Pittsburgh struggled mightily below the dots and possessing the puck the get out of the zone cleanly that is often a staple of their game.
Against this type of personnel, Kris Letang’s absence finally showed up and the Penguins struggles in those areas weren’t surprising with Letang and Trevor Daley out, while you’re dressing Derrick Pouliot and Steve Oleksy.
Offensively the Penguins didn’t make it a tough enough game on Bobrovsky.
Still this was a 1-1 game in the second period and the Penguins were what should have been a Carl Hagelin tap-in goal to go up 2-1 from this turning into a different game. The Penguins have received the Anaheim Ducks version of Carl Hagelin this season who has 3 goals in 34 games.
And then we have the Derrick Pouliot problem.
Pouliot crushed the Penguins with two defensive lapses that led to this game getting away from the Penguins.
The third goal of the game was an embarrassing display as Scott Hartnell blew by Pouliot like he was Michael Grabner and was another example of how bad Pouliot struggles to anticipate the play when the puck was coming up the wall.
What drives Penguin coaches nuts with Pouliot is how his play away from the puck is more at an AHL level than NHL level. The William Karlsson goal to put the Blue Jackets up 2-1 highlighted that key area where Pouliot has man-to-man coverage with Karlsson in the corner and Karlsson gets to the front of the net at ease as Pouliot is puck watching.
This is a big audition period for Pouliot to at least get the coaching staff to start believing in him a bit and he’s failing miserably.
It’s also becoming quite a disappointment that the Penguins had the chance to make a top-10 pick during the prime years of the Sidney Crosby era and this is what they ended up with.